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NBA Optimal Lineups Picks for DraftKings & FanDuel Tyus Jones | Friday, Dec. 17

Terry McBride

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There will supposedly be an eight-game NBA DFS slate on Friday night, though it sure seems like things are trending toward a different outcome. The league has been ravaged by COVID-19 exposures over the past two weeks, with more and more players landing on the shelf each day. Several of today’s games will be played severely short-handed, with questions lingering about whether they will be able to tip at all. If things go to plan, the board in Vegas looks appealing, with two games totaled at 226 and the late-night matchup between the Hornets and Trail Blazers hitting 230. There are numerous stars and interesting pricing tiers across both DraftKings and FanDuel NBA DFS contests tonight, getting to the right mix of players who will provide lesser-owned opportunities to put up similar scores to their chalky counterparts is a strong approach to a slate of this size. The leverage and optimal lineup appearance rate columns are critical for identifying both types of opportunities.

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This space will always focus on the factors mentioned above, but at times we will call out plays that are over-owned, taking the opportunity to discuss the potential pivots. With eight games on the board, this article will focus on several of the top overall plays on the Boom/Bust Tool. As always, the goal is to find players who are under-appreciated for the frequency with which they land in the optimal lineup in DraftKings and FanDuel NBA DFS projections and simulations.

DraftKings & FanDuel NBA DFS Lineup Optimizer Picks

These picks are made utilizing the Boom/Bust Tool, specifically analyzing the optimal lineup rate, leverage score and boom probability. The optimal lineup rate represents the frequency at which a player appears in the optimal lineup in Awesemo’s simulated DraftKings NBA and FanDuel NBA slates. The leverage score is the difference between the optimal lineup rate and projected ownership, while the boom probability indicates a player’s likelihood of hitting a ceiling score. It is important to remember that not all of these NBA DFS picks are highlights, at times we will discuss plays that are outright bad or come at such aggressively negative leverage that they are rendered bad in this space, so be sure to read the analysis and not just the headlines.

DeMarcus Cousins: DraftKings — $3,100 — C | FanDuel — $3,700 — C

On a night of ludicrous plays, a 21.9-minute projection for DeMarcus Cousins makes him one of the most frequently optimal plays on the DraftKings slate. Cousins has averaged just 12.4 minutes in the seven games in which he has seen action this season, but the seriously short-handed Bucks will likely ask more of him this evening. He has 0.99 fantasy points per minute across all situations in his limited action this season and a 1.27 per minute in his limited run last year. Cousins just needs to see his projected minutes to have a strong chance of making more than fair value on the cheap prices across the industry, but he is a more valuable piece where he is listed at nearly the minimum salary.

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On the DraftKings slate, Cousins is a mere $3,100 at the center position. He ranks second among all players on the site with a 27.5% optimal lineup appearance rate, falling in behind only extremely popular $3,600 guard Davion Mitchell. Cousins is 7.5 percentage points higher in the optimal lineup rankings than superstar Nikola Jokic, who costs nearly four times the salary but is carrying a median projection more than double Cousins’ 27-point mark. He has a massive 59.2% boom score probability, this time slightly outpacing the 58.1% carried by Mitchell. For the hefty $12,000 price tag, Jokic has a 23.6% boom score probability, which helps cast the value of Cousins’ extreme discount in the correct light. He is projected for just 29.2% ownership, which leaves him only slightly negatively leveraged at -1.7. He is not a lock play, but he can be owned beyond the field’s projected rate if desired. Cousins is very unlikely to destroy a lineup, at his price he should only have to take the court to come near delivering value.

On the FanDuel slate, Cousins is a $3,700 option and fits only at the center position. A lack of positional flexibility knocks him down to a 19th-ranked 15.2% optimal lineup rate and he is carrying just a 0.6 leverage score on the site. With a somewhat low raw total ownership mark of just 14.6% it is easy enough to get beyond the field on Cousins, chasing his 47.5% boom score probability for tournament upside. Cousins can be rostered alongside two of the more frequently optimal centers on the slate, both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Anthony Davis carry power forward eligibility. The potential for opportunity cost is once again primarily around Jokic, who costs $11,600 and ranks ninth overall with a 20.8% optimal lineup rate on the blue site. Deciding where to spend salary on this slate will inform roster construction and optimal lineup paths, if one opts to spend for Jokic at the singular center spot it is limiting in other areas, rostering a value like Cousins in a fair share of lineups opens numerous avenues to highly projected and frequently optimal entries.


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Tyus Jones: DraftKings — $5,500 — PG | FanDuel — $5,800 — PG

The Grizzlies are taking on an extremely limited Kings team in Sacramento in the last game of the night and several players from the contest come up as extremely interesting options. There are a number of question marks on the Kings side of the game, while the Grizzlies appear to be slightly more stable outside of the known injury list. A few of the Memphis starters have a strong appeal on this slate, Jackson Jr. is the most frequently optimal player on the FanDuel board, and he comes with a positive leverage score despite nearly 30% ownership. He is less of a play at a higher price on DraftKings, where he is just 12.9% optimal. Point guard Tyus Jones is projected for a 30-minute night and he has averaged 0.93 fantasy points per minute on just 14.9% usage across all situations this season. By comparison, more expensive and more popular teammate Dillon Brooks is projected for a 31.1-minute night and he has posted a 1.04 per-minute mark on 29.2% usage. Brooks is at a -9.2 leverage score on FanDuel and a -3.1 mark on DraftKings, so Jones is seemingly a better play on both sites.

On DraftKings, Jones comes in with a 12% optimal lineup appearance rate for his $5,500 salary. That trails Brooks’ mark by just 3 percentage points, while Jones is projected for just 10.3% popularity and a 1.7 leverage score. He is projected for a 28.9-point median DraftKings score and a 14.7% boom score probability, which both compare reasonably well to Brooks’ marks for a lower cost and better ownership situation. Jones ranks 21st overall by optimal lineup rate, one spot behind Jaren Jackson Jr. on the board. He is worth a spread of shares at or around where the public is projected, and he could be an underappreciated mid-range value on the slate.

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Jones is more interesting on the blue site tonight. Jones lands 11th overall on the site, appearing in the optimal lineup in 18% of Awesemo’s simulated slates. He has a 29-point median projection and a 17.9% boom score probability for the $5,800 salary while drawing only marginally more ownership than he is seeing across town. On FanDuel, Jones is projected to be in just 11.4% of public lineups, leaving him with an excellent 6.6 leverage score. Jones is ranked fifth from the top of the board by leverage, but he lands behind several players who are carrying questionable tags. He could be a valuable piece for lineup differentiation, particularly when targeting the interesting late-night contest on both sites.

Nikola Jokic: DraftKings — $12,000 — C | FanDuel — $11,600 — C

Yes, the cost is daunting, but that is also what is helping to suppress the public’s exposure to the best overall player in NBA DFS. Over the Nuggets’ three most recent games, Jokic has posted a ridiculous 1.98 fantasy points per minute, up from his season-long 1.72 mark. He sees 31.2% usage across all situations this season and has posted a 38.1% assist rate and a 20.7% rebounding percentage, providing fantastic multi-category upside. Jokic will have his work cut out for him if he is to deliver value and upside on his significant price tag, but with so many strong values on the board and a number of others likely to emerge if games are not lost altogether, it is easy to roster Jokic while creating highly projected highly optimal lineups.

Jokic is the most expensive player on the board on FanDuel, coming in at $11,600. This is doing nothing to slow down his optimal lineup appearance rate which stands at a 20.8% mark, the ninth highest overall and third among center-eligible players. Jokic trails Jackson Jr. and Davis in the category but can be played alongside at least the former, and likely the latter assuming one can make the salary work if taking that path. Davis is a $10,200 option who lands in the optimal lineup in 26.7% of slates, but he is projected for 31.4% ownership compared to the mere 17.8% projected for Jokic. He has the slate’s fourth-highest boom score probability at a 32.5% despite carrying the highest price. He is a different play than Cousins, Jusuf Nurkic or Davion Mitchell, who all rank above him in the category. It is worth noting that Cousins and Nurkic are both center-only options on the site, which creates an inflection point around the Jokic or value decision. He is projected for a slate-leading 56.9-point median protection, and he carries a 3.0 leverage score in the mid-afternoon.

The $12,000 big man in the middle for Denver appears in the optimal lineup in 20.9% of simulated slates on DraftKings. That ranks him fifth overall on the site, one spot behind $10,400 currently questionable option LeBron James. Jokic is projected for a whopping 60.4-point median projection, outpacing James by nearly seven full fantasy points. He has a 23.5% boom score probability for the extremely high salary, ranking him 10th overall but fifth behind Davis, minimum-priced Damian Jones, $3,800 Tristan Thompson, and Cousins at the center position. Jokic is a radically different play than all of those options but Davis, a $9,400 option with power forward eligibility on the site. The “Jokic or value” question at the center position is even more prevalent on this slate. The Kings centers are less appealing on FanDuel, but here they stand out for their points-per-dollar upside. Still, the overall ceiling potential for Jokic is strong, and it is an easy proposition to build lineups in his direction with all of the cheap plays at every position on this slate. Jokic is under-owned at just 19.7%, leaving him at a 1.2 leverage score. James, by comparison, is a -5.2 leverage play with a 26.2% ownership projection on the site.


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Our NBA DFS projections DraftKings are updated regularly, including whenever any relevant news breaks. View our FanDuel ownership projections, our Yahoo! ownership projections and our DraftKings NBA ownership. We also have FanDuel ownership rankings, DraftKings rankings and Yahoo! ownership rankings for today's slate. Check out our daily fantasy basketball rankings for fantasy points and values that are derived directly from Alex Baker's own best DFS NBA projections. Looking for more free NBA DFS advice today and the best NBA DFS advice?

Terry used to do other things, now he writes words on the internet. He hopes his more than 20 years’ experience in season-long and daily fantasy sports and his custom models for MLB, NBA, and NFL don't steer you too wrong when he writes columns and makes picks on Awesemo.com. A lifetime of experience keeping odd hours make Terry ideal to cover KBO baseball overnight until the world returns to normal. Most of those late night hours have been spent on the couch watching sports, T.V., and movies; just try to shut him up about any of the above. You can find his pop-culture ramblings and more on Sideaction.

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